OLD TOWN, Maine — “I don’t think there is anything you can say to us that will convince us this is a good idea,” Maria Girouard said recently of a proposal to put a new landfill in Argyle or Greenbush.
At a May meeting hosted by the Municipal Review Committee, Girouard, a member of the Penobscot Nation, listened to proponents pitch their idea of putting a new landfill in small towns in rural Penobscot County a few miles from her home. Then she spoke during the informational meeting about the plan held recently in Alton.
“This isn’t the place,” she said. “We don’t want it. It endangers the water, and it doesn’t compute with our way of life.”
Girouard’s concerns, and those of a group of area residents who believe as she does, are pitted against those of the Municipal Review Committee and the 187 communities whose solid waste interests it represents.
Given the rate of trash disposal in Maine, the state will soon run out of landfill space to handle municipal solid waste if nothing changes, according to waste management leaders.
“It’s not great to start with the most unpopular piece, but this is an entire system we’re looking at, not just this one piece,” George Aronson, senior technical advisor for the Municipal Review Committee and head of its oversight committee, said of the proposed landfill.
Whether the landfill becomes a reality will ultimately be decided by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Under state statute, before a new landfill can be approved, the Department of Environmental Protection must first make a determination that the proposal provides a substantial public benefit.
Toward that end, the Department of Environmental Protection is holding a public hearing on the Municipal Review Committee application 2-5 p.m. and 6:30-9 p.m. Wednesday at the Old Town Elks Lodge.
A nonprofit public organization, the Municipal Review Committee says the public will benefit from its operating a landfill in conjunction with a recycling and fuel processing facility in Argyle or Greenbush to be used only by its member towns.
There is less than 11 years of landfill capacity remaining in Maine, according to a March 2013 Waste Generation and Disposal Capacity Report given to the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee. The Municipal Review Committee says it is moving on its proposal because the clock is ticking.
Remaining landfill capacity
The Municipal Review Committee will need to convince the Department of Environmental Protection its plan fits the state’s vision of the waste-disposal future, which includes increased recycling. Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town — the only state-owned landfill up and running — is expected to fill up in less than seven years at the current rate of disposal, but the Department of Environmental Protection says there is room remaining at other facilities.
“While [Juniper Ridge Landfill] may only have seven years left of disposal capacity, there are numerous opportunities within the state to dispose of waste,” Jessamine Logan, spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, said in a recent email. “There are 44 active landfills within the state, three incinerators, roughly 18 composting facilities. Then there is some large number of processing facilities that handle an enormous variety of materials some people would consider wastes. There are also recycling facilities.
“As noted in our materials management plan, we are taking a broad view of the life cycles of materials and supporting ways to divert materials from being landfilled,” she said. “By recognizing the economic value that some materials have, we are following the solid waste hierarchy that puts landfilling last.”
Logan refers to the 2014 State Waste Management and Recycling Plan Update & 2012 Waste Generation and Disposal Capacity Report that was presented to legislators in January. It outlines ways Mainers could reduce what goes into landfills.
The waste management plan says Mainers are throwing away valuable recyclables and biowaste, such as food waste, that could produce revenue. It emphasizes — as it has for years — Mainers should reduce, reuse, recycle, compost or process for energy its waste, using landfills as a last resort.
Juniper Ridge Landfill operators have shelved an expansion plan, and it lost a battle in June to be able to accept more municipal solid waste from commercial waste hauler NEWSME Landfill Operations LLC, a subsidiary of Casella Waste Systems Inc., which operates the state-owned landfill just west of Interstate 95.
The Board of Environmental Protection voted to extend NEWSME’s 81,800-ton cap by two years to March 31, 2018, and updated the contract between Casella and Penobscot Energy Recovery Co., a trash incinerator located in Orrington. Under the updated contract, Casella agreed to send up to 30,000 tons of the NEWSME solid waste per year to PERC in an effort to reduce what goes into the Old Town landfill.
Maine’s solid waste management hierarchy is to reduce, reuse and recycle, but only about 40 percent of what Mainers throw away actually is recycled or reused, and that number has been stagnant for a decade. Enter the Municipal Review Committee.
Municipal Review Committee applying for new landfill
Municipal Review Committee member communities produce around 180,000 tons of trash annually. Municipal Review Committee leaders say they don’t want to run a landfill, but they see no viable options on the table with Juniper Ridge running out of space and costs at PERC expected to double when a contract ends in 2018.
They say only trash from their member communities, which include Greenbush and Argyle, will be disposed of at the proposed facility and only after everything that can be recycled or reused is removed, including food waste.
“If everything went through a processing line, everything would be recycled,” Aronson said recently.
Many at the Alton meeting asked why state-owned Carpenter Ridge, located in T2-R8 just north of Millinocket Lake, couldn’t be used.
“That is a permitted landfill site that remains undeveloped,” Logan said. “The site was acquired by the state in 1995 to provide disposal capacity for special waste, [primarily waste to energy ash], should disposal capacity for Maine’s waste be needed, which hasn’t occurred yet.”
Aronson said that it’s time for Mainers to increase recycling efforts and waste diversion efforts to reduce what is buried in landfills, which is exactly what the Municipal Review Committee plan does.
While nothing is set in stone, the planned facility may incorporate a zero-sort recycling facility to gather glass, metals, papers and plastics into bales that are sold on the commodities market, according to the Municipal Review Committee. It also would include a plant that takes organic materials and changes them into pulp to be distilled into ethanol and other processed fuels such as fibrous pellets that could be sold for heating, according to Greg Lounder, executive director of the committee.
“We have a rare opportunity to reset the system,” Lounder said.
All documents received by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection related to the public benefit determination, including the application and public comments, are available at maine.gov/dep/waste/mrc/index.html.
Coming soon: The second part in this two-part series will examine the Municipal Review Committee’s proposed waste-to-energy plan.